Pennsylvania Record

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Philadelphia teacher who threatened asbestos lawsuit against School District gets $850K settlement

State Court

By Nicholas Malfitano | Mar 3, 2020

Asbestos 10

PHILADELPHIA – A former local public school teacher whose plight called greater public attention to the issue of asbestos in Philadelphia schools has reached a financial settlement with the district.

On Thursday, the Philadelphia Board of Education approved the settlement in the amount of $850,000 to Lea DiRusso, an educator who spent 28 years teaching in the School District of Philadelphia and who is now afflicted with mesothelioma.

DiRusso, 51, appeared on ABC Network’s “Good Morning America” in November and alleged that years of working in two different school buildings with damaged asbestos fibers led her to develop peritoneal mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer often targeting the lungs and abdomen, primarily resulting from long-term exposure to asbestos fibers. Though it can sometimes take years and even decades to develop, patients diagnosed with the disease have an average survival rate of one year.

Forced to retire from her 28-year teaching career in August due to her diagnosis, DiRusso initially planned to sue the School District of Philadelphia before recently coming to terms.

“I was completely unaware, as are my colleagues and staff and students, that there even was asbestos present in the school building. I did not know that the steam pipes behind me were wrapped in asbestos. And I touched them and I hung clotheslines to hang student work. And I used it because I was creating a home for my students,” DiRusso said.

DiRusso most recently worked in William M. Meredith Elementary School and prior to that, in George W. Nebinger Elementary School. Both buildings have existed for nearly a century and have a documented history of asbestos-related issues, including in the classrooms where DiRusso taught. Her doctors have said that school-based exposure likely led to her development of mesothelioma.

Since DiRusso went public, the School District of Philadelphia has received increased scrutiny as to the conditions present in its school buildings and subsequent inspections for asbestos.

The district has admitted that 174 of its 214 schools have asbestos located somewhere inside their buildings, though it added the substance only presents a danger to human health once it separates and becomes airborne.

Nearly a dozen Philadelphia schools have been closed for asbestos during this school year alone.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers union, took to court in January to sue the school district over claims that its improper handling of asbestos contamination in its school buildings has put 125,000 students and 13,000 staff members at risk for serious health issues.

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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School District of Philadelphia